The Mai Tai is a very misunderstood cocktail. Many people think this is a tropical fruit juice cocktail, but the reality is that this is a strong rum-based drink. The confusion comes from a hotel in Hawaii that modified the original formula in the 1950’s and added pineapple juice (often called a Maui Mai Tai), then someone added guava and orange juice, and eventually, the drink barely resembled the first incarnation. The classic recipe uses top quality rum and Curacao plus orgeat (pronounced: or-zat) and lime. A small amount of sugar can be added to balance the lime. The grenadine is optional and is strictly added for colour. The Mai Tai was created by Trader Vic.
The Mai Tai is recommended for people who like the flavour of rum. The cocktail should be thoroughly iced, crushed being best. The dark rum float, on the Mai Tai, can be any dark rum, such as Myers. Personally, I prefer Gosling Black Seal rum, but as with any cocktail, there is room for subtle adjustments. Using a quality orgeat is another important factor. If you can’t locate good orgeat you can find a recipe for orgeat here.
Mai Tai Recipe
2 oz Havana Club Rum
½ oz Cointreau
½ oz Lime Juice
½ oz Orgeat
Float Dark Rum
If you are feeling adventurous or the original version is a tad too strong in the rum department, try adding 1/2 oz of Bols Vanilla Liqueur to your Mai Tai, which works beautifully with the Havana Club rum. For the weak, I would recommend a Maui Mai Tai version. To do this add pineapple, orange and guava juice to the Mai Tai recipe. Substitute lower quality rum in this cocktail.
What is a great Mai Tai recipe for someone who likes rum?
* The original Mai Tai cocktail recipe called for Orange Curacao, but I’ve been unable to locate this in Canada, so since we use excellent rum, I would only add a good orange liqueur, but any decent triple sec will work. Also, the original recipe calls for 3.5 oz of liquor which is 0.5 oz above the legal limit in Ontario for a single serving of alcohol. The days of power drinking are long gone, but the Mai Tai still has its place.
The creation of the Mai Tai happened in Oakland in 1944 by Victor Bergeron, better known as Trader Vic. The name of the drink was expressed by the guests, who were from Tahiti when they exclaimed “Mai Tai – Roa Ae”, which means “Out of This World – The Best”. That is how the Mai Tai was born.
The Mai Tai, along with Don the Beachcombers Zombie, are two of the key drinks that started the Polynesian, Tiki, or exotic, drink craze of the 1940s and continued until the 1970s. After a 30 year hiatus, the Tiki revival has found a second wind.
If you like this drink, you’ll probably love the original Singapore Sling.
Writer, author of Fix the Pumps, chemist, beekeper and general do-er-of-things, Darcy can generally be found looking for new and interesting things to do, usually over a cocktail. Currently working on more soda fountain history.